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What is Dictionary?

A dictionary (also called a wordbook,
lexicon or vocabulary) is a collection
of words in one or more specific
languages, often listed
alphabetically, with usage
information, definitions,
etymologies, phonetics,
pronunciations, and other
information;[1] or a book of words in
one language with their equivalents
in another, also known as a lexicon.
[1] According to Nielsen (2008) a
dictionary may be regarded as a
lexicographical product that is
characterised by three significant
features: (1) it has been prepared for
one or more functions; (2) it contains
data that have been selected for the
purpose of fulfilling those functions;
and (3) its lexicographic structures
link and establish relationships
between the data so that they can
meet the needs of users and fulfill
the functions of the dictionary.
A broad distinction is made between
general and specialized dictionaries.
Specialized dictionaries do not
contain information about words
that are used in language for
general purposes—words used by
ordinary people in everyday
situations. Lexical items that
describe concepts in specific fields
are usually called terms instead of
words, although there is no
consensus whether lexicology and
terminology are two different fields
of study. In theory, general
dictionaries are supposed to be
semasiological, mapping word to
definition, while specialized
dictionaries are supposed to be
onomasiological, first identifying
concepts and then establishing the
terms used to designate them. In
practice, the two approaches are
used for both types.[2] There are
other types of dictionaries that don't
fit neatly in the above distinction, for
instance bilingual (translation)
dictionaries, dictionaries of
synonyms (thesauri), or rhyming
dictionaries. The word dictionary
(unqualified) is usually understood
to refer to a monolingual general-
purpose dictionary.[3]
A different dimension on which
dictionaries (usually just general-
purpose ones) are sometimes
distinguished is whether they are
prescriptive or descriptive, the latter
being in theory largely based on
linguistic corpus studies—this is the
case of most modern dictionaries.
However, this distinction cannot be
upheld in the strictest sense. The
choice of headwords is considered
itself of prescriptive nature; for
instance, dictionaries avoid having
too many taboo words in that
position. Stylistic indications (e.g.
‘informal’ or ‘vulgar’) present in
many modern dictionaries is
considered less than objectively
descriptive as well.[4]
Although the first recorded
dictionaries date back to Sumerian
times (these were bilingual
dictionaries), the systematic study of
dictionaries as objects of scientific
interest themselves is a 20th
century enterprise, called
lexicography, and largely initiated by
Ladislav Zgusta.[3] The birth of the
new discipline was not without
controversy, the practical dictionary-
makers being sometimes accused of
"astonishing" lack of method and
critical-self reflection.

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